Israeli State Terrorism: An Analysis of the Sharett Diaries

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VOL. 9


No. 3
P. 3
Israeli State Terrorism: An Analysis of the Sharett Diaries


[EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is excerpted from Israel's Sacred Terrorism, which will be published by the Association of Arab-American University Graduates in the spring of 1980. As a companion piece to the article, and to set its subject, the Moshe Sharett diaries, in their context, we include a preface by Michael Adams originally published in Arab News (Jiddah), March 8, 1980.]

Preface by Michael Adams

Since Menahem Begin came to power in May 1977, Israel's international position has deteriorated sharply. Today a growing number of Israelis are uneasily aware that it is Israel rather than the Arabs whom the outside world blames for the failure to reach a peaceful settlement in the Middle East. They are disconcerted by the realization that they can no longer count on automatic Western (and not necessarily even on American) support for the policy which has served Israel so well in the past: the policy of provoking Arab hostility and then taking advantage of it to carry out a carefully prepared plan for territorial expansion.

For those who still doubt that this has been the consistent policy of successive Israeli governments ever since the establishment of the state, an impressive body of evidence is just coming to light. The diaries of Moshe Sharett, who was Israel's first foreign minister under David Ben-Gurion and then briefly (1954-5 5) prime minister, have recently been published - after unsuccessful attempts by the Israeli establishment to suppress or at least censor them - in Hebrew.* A first translation into English has now been made, though not yet published.

This translation, by the Italian writer and journalist Livia Rokach, of which substantial extracts are shortly to be published by the Association of Arab-American University Graduates in the United States, makes clear much that has until now been shrouded in deliberate obscurity.

Moshe Sharett was in charge of the Zionist movement's external relations for a total of 23 years, first as head of the Political Department of the Jewish Agency from 1933 to the establishment of the Israeli state in 1948 and then as foreign minister from 1948 until shortly before the Suez crisis in 1956. His diaries show that, while he shared the general aims of the Zionist movement under the leadership of David Ben-Gurion, including its territorial aims, he differed from Ben-Gurion over the methods by which to achieve them. Relatively speaking, Sharett was a dove by comparison with Ben- Gurion, the supreme hawk whose "activist" policies dominated the early years of the state and were carried into execution by such devoted acolytes as Moshe Dayan and Ariel Sharon (the present minister of agriculture and leading advocate of intensive Jewish settlement on the occupied West Bank).

This much has long been known to the Israeli public and to students of Israeli affairs abroad. What could not be established until the publication of the Sharett diaries was the precise nature of the conflict that went on within the Israeli cabinet, and sometimes between it and the defense and security establishment, over the best means of completing the partial victory won over the Arabs in 1948. What the diaries record is the rearguard action - the ultimately unsuccessful rearguard action - fought by Sharett during the 1950's against Ben-Gurion's policy of unceasing but hidden aggression against all of Israel's Arab neighbours. In this respect the Sharett diaries can be compared in their nature and potential effect to the Pentagon Papers, whose publication revealed the fraudulent and unconstitutional methods adopted by the government of the United States in its pursuit of the war in Vietnam.

In the same way the Sharett diaries document, in the form of a day-to-day record compiled for the writer's own eyes alone, without thought of publication, the violent stratagems by which Ben-Gurion and his associates sought at once to destabilize the Arab countries on Israel's borders and at the same time to pose to the outside world as the unoffending victim of Arab intransigence.

The deception was a vital part of the strategy. The Zionist lobby in the United States was not yet fully organized and its control over American opinion and policy-making was still insecure. Ben-Gurion was acutely aware of Israel's dependence on Western support and of the need to hide from Western eyes the brutal and illegal methods by which he proposed to complete the destruction of Israel's enemies and gain control of what was left of Arab Palestine after the 1948 war.

Sharett began to keep his diary on October 9, 1953, just after Ben-Gurion had announced his intention to resign and retire to his kibbutz in the Negev, leaving Sharett to succeed him. What Sharett only realized later was that the "retirement" (like his own succession) was part of an elaborate charade, whose primary aim was to mislead Western opinion. Ben-Gurion was known as a hawk, Sharett as a dove, so that when one was succeeded by the other the inference would be drawn in Washington and London and at the United Nations that Israel was turning its back on violence and looking to Sharett, the dovish diplomat, to resolve its remaining problems and reach a sensible accommodation with the Arabs. With foreign anxieties thus relaxed, it would be all the easier to pursue, clandestinely and without the knowledge even of the new prime minister, the strong-arm policies which - if they should be exposed - could always be explained away as a "spontaneous" and quite unauthorized response to Arab aggression.

Before leaving for the Negev, Ben-Gurion made two appointments which disturbed Sharett. To succeed himself as minister of defense (which he had combined with the premiership) he chose Pinhas Lavon, a leading "activist"; and as army chief of staff, he nominated Moshe Dayan, the most devoted supporter of Ben-Gurion and a man whom Sharett mistrusted, as his diary records, on account of his "endless capacity for plotting and intrigue." It was these two men who were behind the first major controversy in which Sharett now found himself involved.

In an incident on the Jordanian border early in October (1953) an Israeli woman and her two children had been killed. In response to the outcry in Israel, Ben-Gurion had sanctioned, on the eve of his retirement, a large-scale reprisal attack. Sharett, who was not aware of the scale of the proposed action, opposed it in principle, pointing out that the Jordanian government had publicly condemned the border incident and promised to do everything in its power to prevent a recurrence. His diary for October 14 records an exchange with Lavon, the new minister of defense.

I told Lavon that his [attack] will be a grave mistake and recalled, citing various precedents, that these reprisal actions do not serve their declared purpose. Lavon smiled and stuck to his point of view. B.G., he said, didn't share my view.

Two days later, when he has heard the details of the attack (66 Arab villagers, men, women and children, were killed, their houses blown up over their heads while Israeli troops machine gunned the doors to prevent them escaping), Sharett is appalled. At a cabinet meeting attended by Ben-Gurion (who has hurried back from the Negev) there is an angry debate, in which Sharett finds himself in a dilemma, anxious to condemn the atrocity but unable to bring himself to put the blame for it on the Israeli army.

I condemned the Qibya affair which has exposed us in front of the whole world as a gang of bloodsuckers who are capable of mass murder regardless of whether their actions may lead to war. I warned that this stain will stick to us and will not be washed away for years to come.... B.G. insisted on excluding [from the official communique] any mention of the responsibility of the army; the civilians in the border area had taken matters into their own hands.... I said that no one in the world will believe such a story and we shall only expose ourselves as liars as well. But I couldn't seriously demand that the communique should explicitly confirm the army's responsibility because this would have made it impossible to condemn the horrible bloodbath.

The Qibya raid was duly condemned by the UN Security Council, but the condemnation did nothing to deter Ben-Gurion and the other "activists" from scheming behind Sharett's back to bring about a showdown with the Arabs. At another cabinet meeting on October 19, 1953 (five days after the Qibya raid), with Ben-Gurion again present, their designs became apparent to Sharett, who recorded in his diary for that day that

Ben-Gurion spoke for two and a half hours on the army's preparations for the "second round." [He] presented detailed figures on the expansion of the military strength of the Arab countries which [he said] would reach its peak in 1956....

To Sharett the lesson to be drawn from this was that Israel should seek an accommodation with the Arabs while there was still time, that they should

... propose daring and concrete solutions for the refugee problem through the payment of compensation, improve our relations with the Powers, search for an understanding with Egypt.

But the activists were thinking in exactly contrary terms. Their aim was to make it psychologically impossible for Nasser or any other Arab leader to come to terms with Israel, and to prepare the way for the armed confrontation that came about just [three] years later at the climax of the Suez crisis in October 1956. That this was the objective of Ben-Gurion and Dayan emerged clearly from a further meeting of ministers of the ruling Labour party [on January 31, 1954] when, as Sharett recorded, Dayan brought out one plan after another, all for "direct action." At one point Sharett interrupted to ask him: "... do you realize this would mean war with Egypt? He replied: of course."

The plan was eventually carried out [on February 28, 1955] when the Israeli army mounted a major "retaliation" raid against Gaza, where 39 Egyptians were slaughtered in a surprise attack - and the last hope of a peaceful accommodation between Israel and Nasser's Egypt was buried with them.

The Gaza raid, as all the best qualified observers have agreed (including the UN's General Burns, Tom Little, the doyen of Western correspondent in Cairo, and Kennett Love of the New York Times, author of the exhaustive book Suez: The Twice Fought War, not to mention Nasser himself), was the turning point. From then on, Israel was on the road to Suez, which was planned and represented to the world as one more "defensive" reaction to Arab "aggression" by an Israel of whose peaceable character Moshe Sharett, the "moderate" prime minister was the deceptive - and in reality powerless - symbol.

But when he considered the time was ripe for the Suez adventure, Ben-Gurion brusquely elbowed Sharett aside and once again assumed the command himself, with Dayan as his chosen instrument. Dayan was the perfect man for the job, being - like Ben-Gurion himself - "bloody, bold and resolute," and untroubled by the slightest scruple.


The recent, posthumous publication of the secret notes to which Israel's first foreign minister and one-time prime minister Moshe Sharett confided his tormented doubts in regard to the policies which his own government was pursuing in the early and mid-1950's, provide us for the first time with an image of the Zionist state which, though painted by a top Zionist leader, resembles much more that denounced over the years by Israel's ignored Arab victims than its official and widely-accepted self-portrait.

This image of post-state Zionism as a force deliberately and programmatically aiming at perpetuating violence and conflict in the Middle East is not, moreover, exclusively restricted to the years in which Sharett - a "founding father" of Labour Zionism, then at the height of his political career - was compiling his Personal Diary. In fact, a fundamental aspect of the Diary is that it offers, albeit in a fragmented manner, a first-hand record of the high-level planning of Israel's long-term strategy of provocation, terror, territorial expansion and political subversion vis-a-vis the Arab world. Once worked out, in the era preceding the Suez war, this strategy was to - and did - constitute the basis for the Zionist state's political/military behaviour in the next three decades. To mention just a few of many examples: political decisions concerning the occupation of "the rest of Eretz Israel" were taken as early as 1954, although implemented in 1967; the same is true of the blueprint for the creation of a "Christian" puppet state in Lebanon, which dates back to 1954-55; and, according to many indications of present-day subversive activities in Syria, plans and attempts for these date from the same period.

Thus the unusual insight provided by the Diary into the "real facts behind official history," to use Noam Chomsky's words, has the effect of shattering the entire pre-fabricated mosaic of Zionist mythology which persists until now among large sectors of Western public opinion, and in which, as Chomsky again recalls, the US "special relationship" with Israel has its ideological motivation or "doctrine of faith." But the topical value of the Diary is not limited to the disclosures unmasking both Israel's long-term objectives and some of the major protagonists of its present, as well as past, policy formation process. Although history never repeats itself in exactly the same way, there is a striking similarity between the climate reigning in the Middle East - and in the US - in the 1950's and today. The intensification of the cold war and growing tensions in the region are once again said to urge the West to make a choice between the option of securing its vital strategic interests in the Middle East, through alliances with regimes friendly to it in the Arab world, and a continued, unreserved, pro-Israeli option. Once again, above all, Israel is determined to sabotage with any means and at any cost the first alternative. As in the 1950's, its efforts are concentrated on the attempt to shift the balance of power in Washington and elsewhere in favour of its thesis that such a choice is "irrelevant" because Western interests can best be served - and best destroyed - by the Zionist state. While waiting for a "historical opportunity" to mature, blackmail is once again Israel's chief weapon. Consider the following example: The Gaza attack, Sharett writes on March 1, 1955, on the morrow of the operation which at one and the same time scuttled US efforts at mediation between Egypt and Israel and opened the way to developments leading to the Suez war, should be explained by Israel's ambassadors abroad as

... inseparable from the general feeling of isolation prevailing in Israel as a result of the West's alliances with the Arab world.... [Such an interpretation] should be confided only to the most loyal commentators, who must be warned not to appear inspired by our sources.

Exactly a quarter of a century later, an editorial in the International Herald Tribune (March 14, 1980) strongly critical of the Carter administration's (later disavowed) Security Council vote on Israeli settlement in the occupied territories, as well as of French President Giscard d'Estaing's statement in favour of Palestinian self-determination, concedes that both moves may have been inspired by the desire to promote pro-Western stability in the area, but goes on to say:

But the US foul-up and the French initiative could undermine rather than underpin Middle East stability. For one thing, it must be understood that Israelis... will put their backs to the wall and fight - with all the considerable means at their disposal - if they perceive an intolerable threat to their security. At the very best, the fallout would be felt in Lebanon, Syria, or both.

These words seem to confirm that President Carter's disavowal of the Security Council vote, as well as the call for "prudence" following Giscard's initiative, issued by Italian Foreign Minister Attilio Ruffini in his capacity as current president of the European Community, have been made under a renewed Israeli threat to "kindle fires throughout the region" and to "behave like madmen" if the West, and especially the US, were to make even the slightest move towards what the Israelis consider not as a 'threat to their security" - the following pages demonstrate that they never believed in such a threat - but as an attempt to curb, be it only symbolically, their "right" to unlimited predominance in the region.

In the crucial year 1956 both Sharett and Ben-Gurion knew that, as in the case of every contract, be it open or secret, it takes two parties to make blackmail function. Where they differed was that Sharett, who considered himself a "realist," could not believe the West to be so short-sighted, or so uncaring about its interests, as to favour Israel's game. The result, he therefore believed, would in the long run be disastrous for the Zionist state, whose creation in 1948 he considered to have been an "unrepeatable miracle." The West proved him wrong. Moreover, it rewarded his opponents, thereby vastly increasing the "considerable means at their disposal" for the purpose of future aggression - and blackmail. While Ben-Gurion's political offspring who were deeply involved in the 1950's events (Peres, Dayan, Weizman, Sharon, to mention just a few names) are the major protagonists of Israel's present, Begin-led, political scene, it is from the Arab world that arguments reminiscent of Sharett's logic today reach the West. Time will tell if those who voice them are going to have a better chance.


On March 17, 1954, a bus travelling from Eilat to Beersheba was attacked at Maaleh Haakrabim juncture. Ten passengers were killed and four survived. All traces of the aggressors disappeared at a distance of ten kilometres from the Jordanian border, inside Israeli territory, due - Israeli army detectors explained - to the rocky nature of the terrain. One of the survivors, an army sergeant responsible for the security arrangements of the trip, testified that the attackers were "Bedouin." Another survivor, a woman, said they were "five men wearing long robes." The army, according to Sharett, "then dispatched some of its Arab informers to the village of Tel Safi, on the Jordanian side of the border, opposite Sedom." Upon their return, the informers reported that "a group of 8-10 persons had been seen crossing the borders westward that day" by Tel Safi villagers. Quite apart from the fact that it was customary, since time immemorial, for the area's nomad populations to cross back and forth at that point, there must have been something much too peculiar about this story of Israeli army Arab in- formers, and of Jordanian border villagers offering them "evidence," for Colonel Hutcheson, the American chairman of the mixed Jordanian-Israeli Armistice Commission, to take it seriously. Summing up the Commission's enquiry, Colonel Hutcheson in fact officially announced that "no sufficient evidence existed that the killers were actually Arabs."

Moreover, in a confidential report dated March 24 and addressed to UN Observers chief, General Benike, Hutcheson explicitly attributed the attack on the bus to "Jewish terrorists intent on heightening the tensions in the area as well as on creating trouble for the present government." [1] Thereupon, the Israelis abandoned in protest the Armistice Commission and launched a world-wide campaign against "Arab terrorism," and "Arab bloodthirsty hatred of Jews." From his retreat in Sdeh Boker, Ben-Gurion demanded that Israel "occupy Jordanian territory" and threatened to leave the Mapai Party leadership if Sharett's policy were once again to have the upper hand. Lavon, too, pressed for action. On April 4 Moshe Sharett wrote to Ben-Gurion:

I heard that after Maaleh Haakrabim you demanded that we occupy Jordanian territory. In my opinion such a step would have dragged us into a war with a Jordan supported by Britain, while the US would have condemned us in front of the whole world and treated us as an aggressor. For Israel this could have meant disaster and perhaps destruction.

In the cabinet, Sharett overcame Lavon's demands for military action by proposing to "dramatize the unilaterality of [Arab] violence and force the Powers to exercise unprecedented pressures on Jordan." He also pointed out that a retaliation would weaken the effect of the massive propaganda campaign, which, he noted in his diary, should counter "the attention given by the American press to the Jordanian version, according to which the Maaleh Haakrabim massacre was committed by the Israelis." Not only publicly but also in his private notes, the prime minister declared his reluctance to believe this version. [2] Deep down in his heart, however, Sharett, too, must have had his unconfessed doubts, since he not only blocked the proposed military actions, but also decided that Israel should desist from complaining to the Security Council, i.e. from provoking an international debate which he maintained might be counterproductive. He felt that he had acted wisely when, on April 23, Dayan, in the course of a conversation, let drop en passant that "he is not convinced that the Maaleh Haakrabim massacre was the work of an organized [Arab] gang." A couple of weeks later, he learnt from the British journalist Jon Kimche that Dayan had told him in regard to Maaleh Haakrabim: "UN reports are often more accurate than ours.... There is no proof that it was done by a Jordanian gang - it could have been a local one."

Of course, it did not even occur to Sharett to open an internal investigation in order to find out the truth. Moreover, he insisted on the removal of Colonel Hutcheson from his post as a condition for Israel's return to the Armistice Commission. On the other hand, the military were reluctant to give in to his veto on a new attack on the West Bank. In fact, on the night of March 28-29, ostensibly taking as pretext not Maaleh Haakrabim but a subsequent minor incident in the Jerusalem "corridor" area, the army launched a massive attack on the village of Nahhalin, near Bethlehem. Tens of civilians were killed and wounded, the houses demolished, and the village - another Palestinian village - was completely destroyed.

(30/3/54) I said to Teddy Kollek [then senior aide in the prime minister's office, today mayor of Jerusalem]: here we are, back at the point of departure - are we headed for war or do we want to prevent war? According to Teddy Kollek the army leadership is hungry for war... completely blind to economic problems and to the complexities of international relations.

Arab capitals, too, were persuaded that the Israeli escalation of self- provoked incidents, terrorism and renewed "retaliation" meant that Israel was preparing the ground for war. They therefore stationed military reinforcements along the borders and took strong measures to impose the cessation of infiltration into Israel. This in turn worried the Israelis. "The situation along the borders has never been so calm," Dayan complained privately to a journalist friend who reported it to Sharett on April 4. A new and more subtle strategy of covert aggression was thereupon introduced by the Israeli army. Its aim was to bypass both the Arab security arrangements and Sharett's reluctance to authorize attacks across the border. Small patrols were infiltrated into the West Bank and Gaza with precise directives to clash with isolated Egyptian or Jordanian military patrols, or to penetrate into villages and commit acts of sabotage or murder. Invariably, each such action was later falsely described by an official announcement as having occurred inside Israeli territory. Once attacked, the military spokesman would explain, the patrol proceeded to pursue the aggressors into enemy territory. Almost daily actions of this kind, carried out mainly by Arik Sharon's special paratroops, caused a great number of casualties.

Regularly, the prime minister was left to "guess" how things really went. Between April and June he noted in his diary that he learned by chance, for example, of the coldblooded murder of a young Palestinian boy who happened to find himself on the Israeli patrol's path near his village in the West Bank. The murder of the mukhtar of Tel Safi village and the wounding of his wife by a hand grenade thrown into their house became known in its true version through the protest of the Israeli workers in the Sedom potassium plant who feared a reprisal from the villagers. Here, Sharett noted on May 31, was an example of how the actions of Dayan's men "endanger the life of our people and the security of a vital enterprise for our economy." Next, on June 28, an Israeli paratrooper unit crossed the border - "by mistake," according to the official communique - 13 kilometres deep into the West Bank, where it attacked and devastated the Jordanian army base of Azzun, east of Qalqilya. "Uncivilized" was Sharett's ingenuous comment on the army spokesman's announcement.

What Sharett feared most was Western reaction. A number of US "expressions of alarm" presented in those weeks to the Israeli government were registered in the prime minister's diary:

(14/4/54) Reports by US embassies in the Arab capitals, elaborated in Washington, have produced in the State Department the conviction that an Israeli plan of retaliation, to be carried out according to a pre-fixed timetable, exists and that the goal is that of a steady escalation of the tension in the area in order to bring about a war. [3] The American diplomacy is also convinced that it is Israel's intention to sabotage the US negotiations with Egypt on one hand, and with Iraq and Turkey on the other hand, which are aimed at the establishment of pro-Western alliances.

This analysis was perfectly correct. It was to be reconfirmed in the following weeks by Israel's rejection of a series of proposals for border security previously accepted by Egypt, including the creation of mixed Israeli-Egyptian patrols and the mining of certain border areas. Such arrangements, Dayan affirmed, would "bind our hands." It was to be further confirmed in July, when an Israeli terrorist ring whose mission had been to commit acts of sabotage of Western institutions in Cairo and Alexandria was broken up by the Egyptian authorities.

Israeli border terrorism in its various forms continued undisturbed during the following two years, up to the very eve of the Sinai-Suez war, and, of course, beyond. An episode "of the worst type" was noted in detail by Sharett in March 1955 immediately after the Gaza operation, to which we shall return:

(5/3/55) The army informed Tekoah [then responsible for the Armistice Commissions affairs in the foreign ministry] that last night a private (? ) reprisal action was carried out following the killing in February of the young couple - Oded Wegmeister and Shoshana Hartsion - who went on a trip on their own to Ein Gedi [in Jordanian territory]. According to the army version a group of young men, among them the girl's brother, Meir Hartsion, crossed the border, attacked a group of Bedouin and killed five of them. The army says it knew that such an initiative was being prepared but didn't make it in time to prevent it, as the group anticipated by one day, in respect to the original schedule, the beginning of their operation. Today, the Jordanians publicized a completely different version: 20 Israeli soldiers captured six Bedouin,killed five of them and then let the sixth free, ordering him to tell his tribesmen that this was an act of reprisal for the couple's murder. The army spokesman tonight replied that no army unit participated in the operation....

This will be taken as a decisive proof that we have decided to pass on to a general bloody offensive on all fronts: yesterday Gaza, today Jordan, tomorrow the Syrian DMZ, and so on. I will ask the cabinet for the killers to be put on trial as criminals....

(6/3/55) B.G. [back in the government as minister of defense in the wake of the Lavon Affair] reported to the cabinet... how our four youngsters captured the Bedouin boys one by one, how they took them to the wadi, how they knifed them to death one after the other after having interrogated them, asking them questions in Hebrew which they didn't understand and could not answer, while none of the group knows any Arabic. The group was headed by Meir Hartsion from kibbutz Ein Harod. They gave themselves up to the army and fully admitted their actions.

From an educational point of view it is necessary for the four to be condemned by a military court because a sentence by a civil court will not have the same impact on the army. But in the evening the minister of justice and the general prosecutor informed me that there is no legal way to turn them over to a military court. I asked B.G. to order the army to turn them over to the police.... By the way, Hartsion and his three friends are paratrooper reservists....

(8/3/55) [While Purim carnival was being celebrated in the streets of Tel Aviv] the radio is broadcasting cheerful music... some of which expresses much talent, spiritual grace and longing for beauty. I meditated on the substance and destiny of this people who is capable of subtle delicacy, love and aspiration for beauty and nobility and at the same time cultivates among its best youth - young men capable of calculated, coldblooded murder, capable of knifing the bodies of young defenseless Bedouin. Which of those two biblical souls will win over the other in this people?

(10/3/55) Finally the four have been turned over to the police but now they refuse to talk. I phoned B.G. [about it]. "It's their legitimate right," he said. He added that their confession to the army cannot be used to incriminate them by a civil court. From a juridical viewpoint this may be so, but from a political point of view this is a scandal.

The police chief Sahar told me that Dayan, after having consulted Ben-Gurion, rejected the possibility that the police interrogate the army officers who received the four's confession in order to produce the evidence in court.

Isser [Harel] says that almost no one in this country condemns the murder of the Bedouin. Public opinion is definitely on the side of the murderers.

When I arrived in Tel Aviv an officer... came to tell me that the whole reprisal operation was organized with the active help of Arik Sharon, the commander of the paratrooper battalion. [4] He furnished the four with arms, food, equipment and transportation and ordered their retreat secured by his patrols. He did not exclude that Dayan, too, knew of the operation in advance. Moreover, the four now refuse to talk uponi an explicit order from Arik [Sharon], probably approved by Dayan. A campaign is being organized against me because I revealed their identity [to the press]. Arik is shouting that I have exposed the men to reprisal in the event they fall prisoners while fighting in the army at some future time....

(13/3/55)... The four are ready to confess on condition they be guaranteed an amnesty....

In the thirties we educated the public to consider vengeance as an absolutely negative impulse. Now, on the contrary, we justify the reprisals - we removed the mental and moral brakes on this instinct and made it possible... to uphold vengeance as a moral principle. This has become so among large parts of the public in general, the masses of youth in particular, but it has reached the level of a sacred principle in [Sharon's] battalion which constitutes the vengeance instrument of the state.... [5] 

(28/3/55) British ambassador Nichols expressed to me his surprise at the release of the four, especially as the Jordanians arrested the saboteurs at Ajur. What a contrast between their step and the shameful procedure adopted by us!

Meanwhile [Secretary General of Mapai] Yona Kesseh learned from his son [a senior army officer] that the army was involved on all levels, including the chief of staff, in the crime committed by the four.

Six years later, at a meeting of Mapai's secretariat on January 11, 1961, Sharett, out of official politics by then, will come back to this haunting episode:

The phenomenon that has prevailed among us for years and years is that of insensibility to acts of wrong to moral corruption.... For us, an act of wrong is in itself nothing serious; we wake up to it only if the threat of a crisis or a grave result - the loss of a position, the loss of power or influence - is involved. We don't have a moral approach to moral problems but a pragmatic approach to moral problems.... Once, Israeli soldiers murdered a number of Arabs for reasons of blind vengeance... and no conclusion was drawn from that, no one was demoted, no one was removed from office. Then there was Kafr Qassem. Equally, those responsible have not drawn any conclusions. This, however, does not mean that public opinion, the army, the police, have drawn no conclusion: on the contrary, their conclusion was that Arab blood can be shed freely.... And then came the amnesty for those of Kafr Qassem, and such a conclusion could be drawn again, and I could go on like this forever....

All this must bring about a revolt of the sense of justice and honesty in public opinion; it must make the state appear in the eyes of the world as a savage state that does not recognize the principles of justice as they have been established and accepted by contemporary society....


One. Start immediate action to prevent or postpone Anglo-Egyptian Agreement. Objectives are: one, cultural and information centres; two, economic institutions; three, cars of British representatives and other Britons; four, whichever objective whose sabotage could bring a worsening of diplomatic relations. Two. Inform us on possibilities of action in Canal Zone. Three. Listen to us every day at 7 o'clock on wave length G.

This cable in code from Colonel Benjamin Givli, head of Israel's military intelligence, to Colonel Avraham Dar, alias John Darling, commander of the Israeli espionage and terrorism ring planted in Egypt many months before it was activated in July 1954, with the original mission of acting as a fifth column during the next war, was preceded by oral instructions given by Colonel Givli to Colonel Mordehai Bentsur upon the latter's departure for Cairo, where he was to replace Colonel Dar. These were:

[Our goal is] to break the West's confidence in the existing [Egyptian] regime through the creation of public disorder and insecurity. The actions should cause arrests, demonstrations and incidents of vengeance. The Israeli origin should be totally covered while attention should be deviated to any other possible factor. It is necessary to prevent economic and military aid from the West to Egypt. The choice of the precise objectives to be sabotaged will be left to the men on the spot who should evaluate the possible consequences of each action... in terms of creating disorders and public unrest. [6] 

These orders were carried out by the network, which was composed of about ten Egyptian Jews under the command of the Israeli agents, between July 2 and July 27, 1954, while negotiations were at their height between Cairo and London for the evacuation of the Canal Zone, and between Cairo and Washington for arms supplies and other aid in view of a US-Egyptian alliance. British and American cultural and information centres, British- owned cinemas, and also Egyptian public buildings (post offices ) were bombed in Cairo and Alexandria. Suspicions were deviated onto the Muslim Brotherhood and opponents of Nasser's regime. The ring was finally discovered and broken up on July 27, when one of its members was caught after a bomb exploded in his pocket in Alexandria.

On that very day Sharett, who had known nothing of the existence of the ring, was informed of the facts and began to collect evidence on the responsibilities in the matter of the defense ministry and army officials. He did nothing beyond this, however, until October 5, when Cairo officially announced the imminent trial of the arrested saboteurs, and he then fully supported the campaign launched by Israel to present the case as an "anti-Jewish frame-up" by the Egyptian regime. On December 11, as the trial opened in Cairo, the prime minister denounced in the Knesset "the wicked plot... and the show trial... against a group of Jews... victims of false accusations." His party's paper, Davar, went as far as to accuse the Egyptian government of "a Nazi-inspired policy." Horror stories of confessions extracted from the accused under torture circulated in the Israeli and international media. Sharett knew all this to be untrue. On January 2, 1955, he noted in his diary: "... in reality the treatment of our people has been absolutely decent and humane."

But publicly, he kept silent - when he did not himself join the massive anti-Nasser chorus. The very members of the cabinet, the head of state, not to speak of the press, were not officially informed until February, when rumours exploded on every street corner in Israel of the true version of the events, i.e. that the government propaganda had been false from beginning to end, that the terrorist ring was indeed planted in Egypt by the Israelis and the only frame-up in question was the one invented against Egypt by the Sharett administration.

By the time the trial was over - two of the accused were condemned to death and executed, eight were condemned to long terms of imprisonment, while three Israeli commanders of the operation succeeded in fleeing from Egypt and the fourth committed suicide - other substantial facts became known to the prime minister. Although the technical question of who actually gave the order to activate the ring on a certain date was not to be cleared up until six years later, when a fourth or fifth enquiry commission finally and definitely exonerated Lavon from that responsibility and established that Dayan, Peres, Givli and other, minor, "security" aides had forged documents and falsified testimonies in order to bring about the incrimination of the minister of defense, Sharett quite correctly estimated already in 1954-55 that the future leadership of the "security establishment" was guilty of the affair. For him, the question of "who gave the order" was secondary; what mattered was to pronounce a judgment on the ideology and politics of Israel's terrorism. Therefore, while he had no doubts in regard to the guilt of the Dayan-Peres-Givli clique, to him Lavon's political responsibility was ineludible also:

Even if he [Lavon] did not give the order, his role in preparing the ground for the Affair is undeniable. It is he who constantly preached the implementation of acts of madness, his is the doctrine according to which we should "set the Middle East on fire," it is he who has been intriguing, calling for bloody acts of aggression aimed at sabotaging the Western powers, for acts of despair and suicide. [7] 

By January 1955, Sharett had become well aware that the "Affair" was being used by Lavon and his friends on the one hand, the Bengurionists on the other, and such extremist pro-militarist factions as Ahdut Haavoda [8] - to bring into the open the conflict between the "activist" line and the prime minister's "moderate" policies. He was also informed that Dayan was attempting to organize a coup d’état and that Ben-Gurion had given it his support, while other persons who had been approached (mainly from among Mapai's younger militants) had rejected the idea of "a change of leadership" through violence. [9] Dayan wanted to avoid at any cost an exposure of himself and his friends by the investigatory commission nominated by Sharett as those actually responsible for the "Affair." Lavon, on the other hand, threatened to commit suicide if the commission declared him guilty of "having given the order."

(14/1/55) I would never have imagined that we could reach such a horrible state of poisoned relations, the unleashing of the basest instincts of hate and revenge and mutual deceit at the top of our most glorious ministry [of defence].

I walk around as a lunatic, horror-stricken and lost, completely helpless.... What should I do? What should I do? Isser [Harel, head of the Shin Bet, stung at the time because the "Affair" had been conducted by the military intelligence, without coordination with his organization] told me hair-raising stories about Givli, who proposed to abduct Egyptians not only from the Gaza Strip but also in Cyprus and Europe. He also proposed to blow up the Egyptian embassy in Amman in retaliation for the death sentences in the Cairo trial.

To the then Secretary General of Mapai, Barkat, Sharett painted the following picture of Israel's "security establishment":

(25/1/5 5) Dayan wants to hijack planes and kidnap [Arab] officers from trains.... Makleff [who preceded Dayan as chief of staff] wanted a free hand to murder [Syrian President] Shishakly. Lavon suggested the occupation of the Gaza Strip and of the Syrian DMZ.... His is the doctrine that the Western powers are our main enemy and the only way to deter them is through direct actions that will terrorize them.... Peres shares the same ideology; he wants to frighten the West into supporting Israel's aims....

The Gaza Raid

Commenting on Israel's terrorist actions in Egypt, a report from the US embassy in Cairo sent to Washington in early January 1955 concluded: "If such mad actions can be carried out, that means that Sharett does not control the situation." [10] 

The State Department, the prime minister noted, feared ulterior Israeli provocations that would sabotage US relations with the Arab world following the signature of the Ankara-Baghdad pact. The American administration therefore attempted to move simultaneously in two directions in order "to save what could be saved" in the given situation: it exercised pressures on Nasser to negotiate some kind of agreement with the Sharett government, and it offered the Zionist state a security pact. The Israeli prime minister noted:

(21/1/55) The CIA is working on the creation of contacts between us and Nasser. Kermit Roosevelt has been negotiating.... I would nominate Yigael Yadin as our representative.

(25/1/55) 1 met with Roger Baldwin, the envoy of the US League of Human Rights who just visited Cairo.... Nasser talked to him about Israel, saying that he is not among those who could be accused of wanting to throw Israel into the sea. He believes in coexistence with Israel and knows that negotiations will open some day.

(28/1/55) Cable from Eban: The US is ready to sign an agreement with us whereby, in exchange for a commitment on our part not to extend our borders by force, it will commit itself to come to our aid if we are attacked.

(10/2/55) The CIA informs that notwithstanding the Cairo trials Nasser is as ready to meet us as before. The initiative is now up to Israel.

(14/2/55) In regard to Washington's proposals for a US-Israel security pact parallel to the Turkey-Iraq pact, I cabled Eban that we may accept a clause which obliges us not to extend our borders by force, but we should in no way commit ourselves to desist from any hostile acts because this would mean closing the door on any possibility to carry out reprisal actions.

This last phrase indicated that the news of the American proposals, and of possible negotiations between Sharett and Nasser, had spread rapidly to the "security establishment." The pressures on Sharett were accelerated. On February 17, Ben-Gurion accepted the prime minister's invitation to return to the government as minister of defence. "A new troubled chapter is about to begin," Sharett noted that day in his diary. Ten days later, in fact

(27/2/55) Ben-Gurion arrived in my office accompanied by the chief of staff whose hands were full of rolled-up maps. I understood at once what was to be the subject of the conversation. He proposed to hit an Egyptian army base at the entrance to the city of Gaza. [He] estimated that the enemy losses will be about ten... and that we have to calculate that there will be a few victims on our side. B.G. insisted that... if the Egyptians run away under the shock of the attack, there may be no bloodshed at all.

I approved the plan.... In my heart I was sorry that the reprisal will be attributed by the public to Ben-Gurion's comeback. After all, I did authorize a reprisal action once... when B.G. was away from the government, and it was purely by chance that the operation did not take place. I would have approved this one, too, even if B.G. were still away....

(1/3/55) I am shocked. The number of Egyptian victims (37 dead and 30 wounded, including a seven-year-old boy), changes not only the dimensions of the operation but its very substance into an event liable to cause grave political and military complications and dangers. The army spokesman, on instructions from the minister of defense, published a false version according to which a unit of ours, after having been attacked inside our territory, pursued the attackers and engaged a battle which later developed as it did. Who will believe us?

It is the same old story: hit and run and try to fool the world.

(1/3/55) I instructed the embassies to work for the condemnation of Egypt and not to be on the defensive.... Now there will be a general impression that while we cry out about our isolation and the dangers to our security, in reality we are bloodthirsty aggressors who aspire to perpetrate mass massacres. We, in any case, should see to it that this aggression be interpreted as the result of the army and the nation's outrage against the [Powers'] policy of ignoring our security.

I dictated a briefing for the embassies...: It is desirable that the press should express the following: a. Our public opinion had been agitated by the penetration of an Egyptian gang into a densely populated area. b. It seems that the clash developed into a serious battle as the exchange of fire was going on. c. These are the results of the state of war which Egypt always declared to be engaged in. d. This event is inseparable from the general feeling of isolation prevailing in Israel as a result of the West's alliances with the Arab world, the most recent example of which is the Iraq-Turkey Pact whose anti-Israeli goals are particularly evident.

The last argument (d) needs very cautious handling in the sense that it should not be attributed to us and should be confided only to the most loyal commentators, who must be warned not to appear inspired by our sources.

(Later) When I dispatched these instructions I had no idea of how crushing the evidence confuting our official versions is: the already published facts regarding the huge amounts of arms and explosives used by us, the tactics of the attack, the blocking and mining of the roads, the precision of the logistics and coordination.

Who would be foolish enough to believe that such a complicated operation could "develop" from a casual clash?

I am tormented by doubts as to whether this is not my greatest failure as prime minister and what will be the... consequences thereof.

One of the immediate consequences was, inevitably, the following:

(12/3/55) Yosef Tekoah had an interesting meeting with Salah Gohar, the chief Egyptian representative in the Mixed Armistice Commission, who had seen Nasser after our bloody attack on Gaza. Nasser told him that he had had a personal contact with Israel's prime minister and that there were good chances that things would develop in a positive way, but then came the attack on Gaza, and naturally now it's off.

US Ambassador Lawson believes that Ben-Gurion's comeback has caused great fears to spread throughout the Arab world. This is the reason for recent threats and warnings. The Gaza attack is interpreted as signalling a decision on our part to attack on all fronts. The Americans, too, are afraid that a new conflagration in the Middle East will blow up all their plans. Therefore they wish to obtain from us a definite commitment that similar actions will not be repeated.

But it was precisely to prevent such a commitment that Ben-Gurion had rejoined the government, and he had no intention of changing his mind. On the contrary, on March 22, less than a month after the attack on Gaza, he proposed to the cabinet that Israel proceed to occupy the Gaza Strip, this time for good. The discussion lasted five whole days and ended with the ministers equally divided between the opponents of the proposal, headed by Sharett, and Ben-Gurion's supporters. With six votes in favour, six against and four abstentions, the plan was not approved, but neither was it defeated; it was simply postponed. The security pact offered by the US, however, had to be rejected, because - as Dayan was to explain in early April 1955 - "it would put handcuffs on our military freedom of action." He gave a detailed exposition of his views on May 26, during a meeting with Israel's ambassa- dors in Washington (Abba Eban), Paris (Jacob Tsur) and London (Eliahu Elath), in Sharett's presence:

(26/5/55) We do not need [Dayan said] a security pact with the US: such a pact will only constitute an obstacle for us. In reality, we face no danger at all from Arab military force. Even if they receive massive military aid from the West, we shall maintain our military superiority for another 8-10 years thanks to our infinitely greater capacity to assimilate new armaments. On the other hand, the "retaliation" actions are our vital lymph. Above all, they make it possible for us to maintain a high tension among our population and in the army. Without these actions we would have ceased to be a combative people, the settlers would leave the settlements. We must tell these settlers that the US and Britain wish to take the Negev away from us. It is necessary to convince our young people that we are in danger.

The conclusions from Dayan's words are clear: This state has no international obligations, no economic problems, the question of peace is nonexistent. It must calculate its steps narrow-mindedly and live by the sword. It must see the sword as the main and only instrument with which to keep its morale high. Towards this end it may - no, it must - invent nonexistent dangers, and to do this it must adopt the method of provocation-and-retaliation. And above all - let us hope for a new war with the Arab countries, so that we may finally acquire our space (B.G. himself - Dayan recalled - said that it would be worthwhile to pay an Arab a million pounds to start a war against us! )

In early June, US Quaker leader Elmer Jackson, on a visit to Jerusalem after a meeting in Cairo with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Fawzi, told Sharett that Nasser was still interested in regulating relations with Israel. On October 7, the Egyptian president himself told the New York Times special correspondent Kennett Love: "No Arab says today that we should destroy Israel." But Israel had already made its decision. [11] 

Disperse the Palestine refugees...

One important reason for the insistence with which Israel had been pursuing its "retaliation" policy, in addition to the ones already mentioned, was the desire of the Zionist ruling establishment to exercise permanent pressure on the Arab states to remove the Palestinian refugees of the 1948 war from the proximity of the armistice lines and to disperse them throughout the interior of the Arab world. This was not due, in the early fifties, to military considerations; as we have seen, and as the above quotation by Dayan clearly demonstrated, the Israeli government was more interested in heightening border tensions than in their elimination, and its disinterest in the security of the Jewish border population was as cynical as its own promotion of "a sensation of danger" among the settlers through provocations and false propaganda. Moreover, in those years no organized Palestinian resistance movement existed, and it was all too obvious that the low level of guerrilla-type activities maintained was intended by the Arab regimes more to let off steam from the tensions created inside their countries by the presence of the refugees, and to keep the question on the agenda in the international arena, than as a preparatory phase for a war of liberation in Palestine. [12] But the presence of the Palestinian refugees along the armistice lines - in Gaza and the West Bank - was not only a constant reminder of the illegitimacy of Israel's territorial conquests in 1948-49 and of its violation of UN resolutions calling for repatriation; it was also a living, physical landmark along "borders" which Israel had no intention of accepting as definite limits to its territorial expansion. In other words, as long as masses of Palestinians were still concentrated on Palestinian soil, the Israeli rulers argued, there was both the "risk" of international pressure in support of their claim to return to their homes, and little likelihood for international permission to Israel to cancel entirely the geo-political concept of Palestine, substituting for it that of "Eretz-Israel."

It must be underlined at this point that Sharett's position on the Palestine question did not differ, except as regards the use of military methods to obtain their dispersion, from that of the "activists." He had totally rejected Count Bernadotte's repeated pleas in 1948 for a return of the refugees to their homes (Folke Bernadotte, To Jerusalem, London, 1951). A year later, he ridiculed the position of the General Zionist Party in favour of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and against an agreement with King Abdullah for the division of the West Bank between Israel and Jordan (Divrei Haknesset, Jerusalem, 1949). There are numerous references in his diary to negotiations attempted by his senior aides at the foreign ministry with Arab representatives or exiles with the aim of resettling the Palestinians in countries such as Libya, Syria or Iraq. (Among others, Mustafa Abdul-Munaim, deputy secretary-general of the Arab League, is quoted by Sharett on December 12, 1954 as having affirmed that "the refugees should be settled in the neighboring countries, or, if capital is available, in Sinai.") On June 30, 1954, his Arab affairs adviser Joshua Palmon told Sharett of a meeting with two representatives of a Union of Palestinian Refugees, Aziz Shehadeh from Jaffa and Mahmud Yahia from Tantura, in regard to the payment of compensations. Finally, on May 28, 1955, Sharett's ideas on the question of the Palestinian refugees were unequivocally expressed in his instructions to Israel's ambassadors in connection with the security pact offered to Israel by the US, and which the foreign minister suspected might include some conditions: "There may be pressure on us to make concessions on the question of the refugees. I warned [the ambassadors] against any opening towards a request for a return of tens of thousands of refugees, even at the price of peace. " (Emphasis added). On the whole, the attitude to the Palestinians of this "liberal" Zionist leader, who claimed to be an expert on Arab affairs (because he had lived for two years, during his adolescence, in an Arab village in the West Bank; because he knew the Arabic language; because he had lived in Syria while on military service in the Turkish army), is well illustrated by the following note in his diary on November 15, 1953. It refers to a report made that day to the cabinet meeting by Colonel Yitzhak Shani, then chief military governor over the Arab minority in Israel. (As is obvious, those that Sharett calls "infiltrators" were forcefully-expelled Palestinian Arabs trying to return to their home villages, or to re-establish contacts with their families who remained under Israeli rule):

In the last three years [Shani reported] 20,000 infiltrators settled in Israel, in addition to 30,000 who returned immediately after the war. Only thanks to the fact that these 20,000 have not been given permanent documents, the brake has been put on the flow of infilatration directed towards settlement. To abolish the military government would mean to open the border areas to undisturbed infiltration and subsequently to increasing penetration towards the interior of the country. Even as things are, 18,000 Arabs in Galilee are in possession of permanent permits to move freely - only, however, to the west and south and not towards the north and the east.... It is true that the troublesome problem of the evacuees must be eliminated through a permanent resettlement, but the evacuees firmly refuse to settle on land belonging to refugees who are on the other side of the border. Even when stone houses are built for them, they refuse to settle in them if they are built on absentee land.... The Arabs who continue to live on their land enjoy advantages, as their production costs are much lower than those of the Jews and in addition they are exempt from spending money and engaging manpower for guard duty, as the infiltrators don't touch their property.... It may be hoped that after this lecture the General Zionists' demand that the military government be abolished would finally be silenced.

Throughout 1953-54, Sharett periodically referred in his diary to proposals made by Ben-Gurion, Dayan, Lavon and others to "present Egypt with an ultimatum: either it evacuate all the Palestinian refugees from Gaza and disperse them inside Egypt, or else." The description of the discussion in the cabinet in the last week of March 1955 of Ben-Gurion's demand for the occupation of Gaza offers more details:

(27/3/55) The defense minister's proposal is that Israel declare as invalid the armistice agreement with Egypt, and thus resume its "right" to renew the [194849] war.... I condemned B.G.'s spurious arguments.... Even if we assume that half of Gaza's 200,000 Arabs will be made to run to the Hebron hills, obviously leaving everything behind them, it is clear that shortly after they will become a riotous and desperate crowd. It is easy to imagine the outrage and hatred and bitterness and the desire for revenge that will animate them. And we shall still have 100,000 of them on our hands in the Strip and it is equally easy to imagine what means we shall recur to in order to repress them and what waves of hatred we shall recreate and how the international press will carry headlines saying that Israel again causes the flight of terrorized masses of Arab refugees.

(29/3/55) In yet another six-hour cabinet meeting I integrated my arguments.... What we succeeded in achieving in 1948, I said, cannot be repeated whenever we desire it. Today we must accept our frontiers and attempt to reach a detente to prepare the ground for peace and strengthen our relations with the Powers. Finally I produced evidence that the occupation of the Gaza Strip will not resolve anything as the refugees will continue to constitute the same danger - even a greater one, as their hatred will be rekindled... due to the atrocities that we shall commit during the occupation.

B.G.'s answer was full of anger against "those who demonstrate incapacity to understand that we must not miss the opportunity."... It's true he said, the refugees are a nuisance, but we shall chase them out....

...And Topple Nasser's Regime

At the same cabinet meeting Ben-Gurion, according to Sharett's diary,

(29/3/55)... tried to prove that Egypt aspires to dominate the whole of Africa, down to South Africa, where one day the blacks will rise and massacre the two million whites and then subject themselves to Egypt's authority. Nasser, he said, will not even react to our occupation of the West Bank because if he does he will be defeated and his regime, which is wholly based on the army, will collapse. The Arab states will not come to Nasser's aid anyway. Finally, the Western powers will not react militarily. England will not invade the Negev - "and if she does, we shall fight and throw her out shamefully." "Our force is in the accomplishment of facts - this is the only way for us to become a political factor which has to be taken into consideration. This is the right moment because the Arab world is divided and Egypt has not yet signed an agreement with the US or England."

To prevent an alliance between the West and the Arab world, especially with the most important Arab country - Egypt - was (and remained) Israel's main goal. This had nothing to do with Israel's "security" - on the contrary; Ben-Gurion's policy was directed at preventing that security guarantees, necessarily implying the achievement of a minimum agreement between Israel and the Arab world (definition of the borders, a "face-saving" solution for the Palestinian refugees), be "imposed" on the Zionist state by the US. The basic motivation was also clearly stated: the use of force was "the only way" for Israel, possibly delegated by the West, to become a hegemonic power in the region. Nasser had to be eliminated not because his regime constituted a danger for Israel, but because an alliance between the West and his prestigious leadership in the Third World, and in the Middle East, would inevitably lead to a peace agreement, which in turn would cause the Zionist state to be "relativized" as just one of the region's national communities.

That Nasser's regime did not constitute any danger to Israel's "existence" was well known, at that time, to the Israelis. Sharett noted:

(30/3/55)... I expressed my doubts in regard to the [much publicized by Israel] growth of Egypt's military strength, seeing that this year all the energies of the [Egyptian] army have been absorbed in domestic conflicts and rivalries.... About 500 officers, among the best in the Egyptian forces, left active military duty [following Nasser's succession to Neguib] and went over to administrative and political branches.

But Israel's world-wide campaign had nothing whatever to do with the true facts:

(24/4/55) Today in the cabinet meeting Ben-Gurion shouted that Nasser is the most dangerous enemy of Israel and is plotting to destroy her. Where does he take all this from? How can he express all this peremptorially and with vehemence as if it were based on well-grounded facts?

It was simply directed to mobilize international opinion against Egypt and prepare a favourable ground for Israel's imminent military aggression. At the same time, however, Israeli officials were instructed to convince Western governments that the "instability" of Nasser's regime made him unworthy of Western aid and support anyway. As always when their "end justifies the means," Israel's rulers were not at all concerned about the contradiction between their parallel campaigns. To prove Nasser's "weakness" they recurred to testimonies by Egyptians:

(31/7/55) Egyptian capitalist Abud Pasha presented himself [to senior foreign ministry aide Gideon Rafael] as a close friend of Nasser. It seems that he conserved and even strengthened his status under the new regime which declares itself to be an enemy of capitalism.... According to Abud, Nasser is isolated in his own group. He is constantly nervous and does not know whom to favour most. The leadership of the group is divided and conflicts explode between the officers, each of whom leans on the support of a different corps - the air force, the navy, ground forces, etc. The situation is very unstable and it is difficult to know what will happen.

There were also new attempts at subversion:

(21/9/55) Palmon had good contacts in Turkey with leaders of the Umma party in Sudan. One of them will visit Israel soon. It is necessary to detach Sudan from economic dependence upon Egypt and from the latter's influence....

(3/10/55) We are maintaining contacts with Wafd exiles in London.

The Eisenhower administration seemed divided. State Department "pro-Arab" elements, according to Sharett, were still pressing for a Western- Arab alliance in the Middle East, and considered an agreement between Washington and Cairo essential "to the security and stability of the region," in the words of Israel's foreign minister. But Israeli pressures were increasingly bearing fruit. After years of contacts and negotiations, Egyptian requests for defensive armaments had resulted in no more than - as Mohammed Hassanein Heikal was later to disclose - "a personal present made to General Neguib in the form of a decorative pistol to wear at ceremonies," and this while Israel's military aggression had been daily growing more brazen. No economic aid to speak of had been reaching Egypt from the West. And John Foster Dulles' commitment to help Egypt in the construction of the Aswan Dam had faded into thin air. Cairo was humiliated, while Western verbal deplorations after the devastating Israeli attack on Gaza did not seem even minimally to have affected Israel's preparations for an all-out war. Ben- Gurion's public speech on August 8, in which he accused Sharett's policy of being "directed only to please the Gentiles and headed for the destruction of the state," and announced that from then on "the foreign minister's duty will consist only of explaining to the world the defense ministry's security policies," also contributed to extinguishing Cairo's last illusions. By the end of September 1955, Egypt signed an arms deal with Czechoslovakia intended to secure its survival and self-defense. On October 1

Teddy [Kollek] brought in a classified cable from Washington. Our "partner" named [in code] "Ben" - Kermit Roosevelt of the CIA - describes the terrible confusion prevailing in the State Department under the shock of the Nasser-Czech (i.e. Russian) deal. [Henry] Byroade and all the others who were in favour of the US' leaning on Egypt are "out." When our man asked for the meaning of these words, and whether we are expected to go to way, the answer was: "If, when the Soviet arms arrive, you hit Egypt - no one will protest."

(3/10/55) Cabinet meeting. At one stage B.G. declared: "If they get Migs, we shall bomb them! We can do it! "I understood that he read the cable from Washington. The seed has fallen on fertile ground.

Isser [Harel, Shin Bet chief] likewise concludes that the US is telling us that we have a free hand and God bless us if we act audaciously. Now the US is interested in toppling Nasser's regime, but it does not dare for the moment to use the methods it adopted to topple the leftist government of Jacobo Arbanez in Guatemala [1954] and that of the Mossadeq [1953] in Iran. It prefers its work to be wholly done by Israel. Hence, Isser proposes seriously and urgently that we now carry out our plan for the occupation of the Gaza Strip. The situation has been changed in favour of action. There is the recent discovery of oil near the Strip.... In order to defend it we need to dominate the Strip - this alone is worth dealing with the troublesome question of the refugees. Second, Egypt's betrayal of the West now eliminates the danger that the West would intervene against us.

Precisely one year later Dayan's troops were to occupy the Gaza Strip, Sinai, the straits of Tiran and stand along the shore of the Suez Canal to watch the spectacular French and British air-bombings of Ismailia and Suez, accompanied by the blitz-landing of troops in the Canal Zone. Six months before, through a personal decision of Ben-Gurion, and following a vicious whisper campaign intended to present the foreign minister (the premiership had been reassumed by the "Old Man" in November 1955 - one month after the US "green light" for Israeli aggression against Egypt) as "incapable of obtaining for Israel the arms necessary for its defense," Sharett had been eliminated from the government. The atmosphere reigning at the time of his departure was significant:

(18/6/56) Around the [cabinet meeting] table they all sat in silence. None of my colleagues raised his head to look at me. No one got up to shake my hand, despite everything. It was as if all their mental capacities were paralysed, as if the freedom of movement was banned from their bodies, the freedom of expression was taken away from their hearts and the freedom of independent action from their consciences. They sat heavy in their silence. Thus I crossed the whole length of the meeting room, and left.

In the next months, the US would authorize France to transfer its Mirage planes, already earmarked for NATO, to Israel. At the moment of the Suez offensive America would feign surprise - and even indignation. But a clear distinction would be made between England and France - America's beaten rivals in the inter-imperialist contest of influence in the Middle East, whose immediate retreat from Egypt was requested within a matter of hours by President Eisenhower - and Israel, whose withdrawal from Gaza and Sinai would be forced through only four months later, and then thanks only to heavy Soviet pressure which threatened to submerge the West in unforeseen complications to world peace. Israel, with the CIA authorization in its pocket, was to be granted the mitigating circumstances of "security needs" in the world opinion trial of that criminal war. '[he precedent had thus been set and could only mean that the retreat from Gaza and Sinai was to be purely tactical, as the 1967 war later proved.

Moshe Sharett's lifelong assumption as a moderate Zionist" had been that Israel's survival would be impossible without the support of the West, but that Western "morality" as well as Western objective interests in the Middle East would never allow the West to support a Jewish state "which behaves according to the laws of the jungle" and "raises terrorism to the level of a sacred principle." To the prominent Mapai leader David Hacohen, who declared himself convinced that the Israelis should "behave in the Middle East as if they were crazy" in order to terrorize the Arabs and blackmail the West, he replied: "If we behave like madmen, we shall be treated as such - interned in a lunatic asylum and isolated from the world." But his adversaries, who thereby dealt a crushing blow to his personality as well as to the very hypothesis of "moderate Zionism," proved him wrong. What they proved was that his "rational" assumptions were not only fallacious but also unrealistic. In the final analysis the West, and in particular the US, let itself "be frightened, or blackmailed," into supporting Israel's megalomaniac ambitions because an objective relationship of complicity already existed, and because once pushed into the open this complicity proved useful in serving the cause of Western power politics in the region. Just as Zionism, based on the de-Palestinization and Judaization of Palestine, was intrinsically racist and immoral, thus the West, in reality, had no use for a Jewish state in the Middle East which did not behave according to the laws of the jungle, and whose terrorism could not be relied on as a major instrument for the oppression of the peoples of the region. There is a fatal but coherent logic in this newly acquired equation, which was henceforth to determine the course of future events:

(4/4/57) I go on repeating to myself: admit that you are the loser! They showed much more daring and dynamism, they played with fire, and they won. Admit that the balance sheet of the Sinai war is positive. Moral evaluations apart, Israel's political importance in the world has grown enormously. You remain alone. Only your son Coby is with you. The public, even your own public, does not share your position. On the contrary, the public now turns even against its "masters," and its bitterness against the retreat [from Sinai and Gaza] is developing into a tendency to change the political balance in this country in favour of Begin.



Livia Rokach is an Italian writer and journalist of Palestinian origin. Author of No to a Golden Ghetto, Vietnam: Against Genocide, The Open Wounds, The Proofs and a forthcoming book on the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, she is a Fellow of the Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute and the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.

Michael Adams is the Editor of Middle East International (London).

* Yoman Ishi (Personal Diary), eight volumes, Tel Aviv, 1979. 

1 According to Sharett, the report was illegally intercepted by the Israelis.

2 The campaign launched by Israel on the basis of the Maaleh Haakrabim episode and intensively renewed in coincidence with, and as a justification of, the 1956 attack on Egypt, was particularly virulent. 

3 The euphemistic use of the term "retaliation" in this context of actions "to be carried out according to a pre-fixed schedule" fully corresponds to Dayan's description of the "retaliation policy," see below p. 20. Reminiscent of such notorious euphemisms from the Vietnam war as "pacification," "neutralization," "Vietnamization," it has also been used to define recent Israeli mass massacres in Lebanon. 

4 Today minister of agriculture and responsible for the colonization of the West Bank and Gaza in Begin's government.

5 It must be noted that the term "terrorism" was not "in vogue" at that time. Sharett, in fact, uses the word "vengeance" and then embarks on a lengthy and detailed semantic explanation from which it clearly transpires that he was groping for a word which would correspond exactly to today's use of "terrorism. 

6 Both texts are reproduced from the Acts of the Olshan-Dori Enquiry Commission of the "Affair" annexed to the published diaries.. 

7 In a letter to Ben-Gurion dated March 6, 1961 Sharett confirmed: "I did not fire Peres then only because this might have meant an open admission that the entire leadership of Israel's security establishment was responsible for the savage actions in Cairo." In general, very little is known outside Israel on the "Affair" and its complicated ramifications and implications which for many years left a deep mark on Israel's political life. It is therefore understandable that even an excellent reporter such as David Hirst could be misled to think that Lavon shared Sharett's "moderate" line (The Gun and the Olive Branch, London, 1976). In fact Lavon was an ardent "activist" who missed no occasion to preach the use of violence, and this is why Ben-Gurion, when leaving for Sdeh Boker, left him in charge of "his" Defence Ministry. Later, however, Ben-Gurion began to suspect that through his "activist zeal" Lavon also aimed to supplant him at the head of the "security establishment." Thus, a complicated rivalry involving these two members of Mapai's leadership as well as - for their own reasons and ambitions - Ben-Gurion's younger "heirs" - especially Peres and Dayan - became interwoven in the intrigues to which "The Affair" has given rise.

8 Ahdut Haavoda, whose best known leaders were Yigal Allon and Israel Galili, united with Mapai to form the Labour party in the sixties, when Ben-Gurion, infuriated by Lavon's exoneration on the question of "who gave the order," left the former, followed among others by Dayan. Ahdut Haavoda, however. always justified the pro-militarist attitudes it expressed by pseudo-leftist ideological reasons.

9 The history of the attempts to organize coups d'etat in Israel is also little known outside its borders. In 1957 one such attempt by a group of officers who wished to prevent the retreat from Gaza and Sinai, reluctantly accepted by Ben-Gurion under heavy international pressure, was stopped at the last minute. In late May 1967 it was under the threat of a military coup that Premier Levi Eshkol co-opted opposition Knesset member Moshe Dayan into his government as minister of defence, thereby definitely acquiescing to the army's decision in favour of war.

10 This report was signed by Lewis Jones, an embassy aide of whom Sharett said: "I have always considered him to be our friend." The report also noted that Israeli protests against the Cairo sentences should not be taken too seriously: "They [the Israelis] will just use them to collect more money in the US." 

11 A detailed comparison of the above with, for example, the account of the events of that period as provided by Nadav Safran's Israel: The Embattled Ally (Cambridge, Mass., 1978) sheds significant light on the trends which continue to permeate pro-Zionist and Zionist-influenced historiography to the present day. To quote just one example, according to Safran, Nasser's attitude shifted in 1955 "from one of apparent moderation to one that seemed bent on... leading the Arab states in an assault on Israel" and the "apparent willingness of the Arab states to accept a Jewish state" changed in the mid-1950's to a "commitment to eliminate that state."

12 See Abu Iyad, Palestinien sans Patrie (Paris, 1979). Both Palestinian and Israeli sources (among the latter: Ehud Yaari: Mitsraim Vebafedayiin, Givat Haviva, 1976) today maintain that Egypt exercised strong repressive measures to suppress "infiltrations" by Palestinian refugees across the armistice lines. Sharett's notes written at that time confirm it beyond any doubt. They also confirm that Israel's "security establishment" strongly opposed those security arrangements. When a UN Egyptian proposal to mine certain border areas along the Gaza Strip to prevent "infiltration" came to Dayan's knowledge, Sharett noted, the chief of staff exploded with rage: "But I don't want them to do it! " he shouted. "I want us to be able to demonstrate our force to them! " Obviously, he considered the deterrent effect which such mining would have had on Israeli incursions into Gaza as more damaging than the occasional "infiltrations" from the Strip. 


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